Have you ever exercised your feet? Most people look pretty puzzled when I ask them this question. They don't realize that there are specific exercises you can do to strengthen your feet. They put up with their fallen arches or bunions as something that "is the way it is." Some of them even consider surgery (which doesn't even always work).
Isn't it amazing to think that we can reverse hammertoes and other symptoms related to weak and inflexible feet?
I know that it can seem like a waste of time to spend 10 minutes of your class on foot exercises. It's not a sexy subject. Nowhere near six-packs abs and a tight bum.
But really, our feet are the foundation for the whole body. Everything else in the body is above the feet. They are supposed to be as flexible as our hands. They should be able to grab things and hold on to roots when walking barefoot on the forest ground, like humans before the invention of concrete and shoes.
If your feet lack flexibility and strength, you can bet that there will be some compensatory patterns developing up the kinetic chain which can result in discomfort in your knees, hips, shoulders, or any other part for that matter.
Try these exercises to improve the movement, strength, and flexibility of your feet. Heads up before you read on: I did not get a pedicure before taking these pictures. So view them at your own risk!
#1: Lift up your toes and spread them as wide as you can
As you can see the toes 2, 3, and 4 like each other a lot and don't want to leave a lot of space between them.
I didn't take a pic of my right foot, but it's not as clingy as my left. Nice space in between each toe. Compare both your feet like this.
Many people who try this for the first time are shocked that they can't do this. Or they are surprised by the difference between the right and left foot. Often, one foot does a pretty good job but the other one just doesn't seem to move. You keep sending the message from your brain to your toes, but it's as if the highway between your brain and the muscles hasn't been built yet. If this describes you, don't worry! Keep practicing. It'll get better, I promise!
#2: Get Some Help Spreading Your Toes
Use your opposite hand to slide your fingers into the spaces between your toes. I couldn't fit my pinky finger in the space between my 4th and 5th toe and that's okay. As you saw in the previous picture, I mostly need help for the 2-4th toe spaces, which I have covered with this grip.
If you'd rather use your hand for something else and let a tool do the work for you, here are two recommendations:
Toe Separators (that you use when painting your toenails)
Foot Alignment Socks (you can wear these overnight, which obviously increases the benefit)
Correct Toes are the luxury model that comes in different sizes and can be worn in shoes and during sports
#3: Curl your toes and find your knuckles
Can you see all five toe knuckles appear? Many of my students only see the big and pinky toe knuckle. The three in the middle are sunken in because they never articulate at this joint.
Did you know that there are 33 joints in the ankle and foot? Most of us only use the second toe joint (in the picture above it's where my toes curl down, so right where you can't see the rest of my toes anymore.) These joints are often used too much and others not often enough.
#4: Use your hand to help bring your knuckle to the surface
If you can't see all the knuckles, then use your thumb and push up against the sole of the foot directly underneath the knuckle you can't see and it might show up. (Heads up: you might hear the joint cracking, this is usually nothing to worry about, but obviously push gently at first.)
#5: Now move these joints in the opposite direction by pressing "onto your toes" like when you're lifting your heel
Make sure that you are not rolling on top of the tips of the toes. You can do this movement while sitting in a chair or standing so you don't have to worry about your balance. Obviously, if you want to challenge yourself more, hold your other leg off the floor and turn it into a Heel Raise (or Releve).
Related: Pilates for Plantar Fasciitis
#6: Grab a hand towel with your toes
Grab and release the towel several times with each foot.
That was fun, right! :)
These few exercises will strengthen the muscles of your feet and make them more flexible at the same time. Practice them regularly. Use the time while you're waiting for your next class or while catching your significant other up on the happenings of the day.
For your students, explain to them the importance of strong and flexible feet. Educate them on the fact that it is possible to change their feet with exercise.
I used to have fallen arches when I was in my twenties. After working on my feet for a decade (for just a few minutes in each class), I now have normal, lifted arches. So nice.
Need more proof? One of my students made 2019 the "year of the pigs" and spent 10-15 minutes in each class (three times per week) with these exercises. Her feet grew 2 sizes. Whoa! She's now a devotee and tells all the other students how amazingly powerful these exercises are.
If you're looking for specific shoes that can help realign your feet, check out these brands: